Organic in the Marketplace
At Onomea Tea Company we have a high regard for “organic” labeling and the certification process. I am wondering what “organic” means to you. When something is labeled organic does it add value? Are you more willing to buy an organic product if the USDA Organic label appears on it?
I participate in a number of tea discussion groups and recently one of the participants asked whether the best quality teas carry the highest prices. This lead to a discussion about quality and what components can be used to establish quality in tea. Keeping in mind that when tea is processed it is not commonly washed. I was surprised that no one (prior to myself) suggested that organic growing methods contribute to quality in tea. Being a tea grower and processor, this is one of the first things I consider when looking for quality in a tea product. The taste and aromas are highly subjective criteria that can not solely establish the quality of a tea. So why wasn’t growing method a primary criteria in determining the quality of tea? Part of the reason may be that very large scale tea farms that have been growing tea for many, many years have established growing methods that rely heavily on chemical based farming practices. That kind of farm methodology can be extremely difficult to adapt to a more organic growing method. In order to become certified organic, a farm cannot have used a non-organic certified product on their crop for at least three years. If a farm starts not using pesticides in favor of trying to become more organic I expect the initial influx of pests will be great, which could dramatically affect yields. Things can be further complicated by suspending the use of commercial fertilizers. The question is, does it make a difference? For me it does. I’m concerned, not only with the quality of tea, but with the long term quality of the soil the tea grows in. I like the idea of mimicking nature as much as possible. Whenever I go into a well established forest I notice how earthy it smells. I notice the cycle of plant growth, organic material being shed from actively growing plants in the form of leaves or falling trees or other decaying plant nutrient. Its a self perpetuating environment, and that’s what I’d like to create in our tea field. An environment that is organically fed by plant based nutrients and possibly light inputs from fowl residues or other animal sources, like one might expect to see in a natural environment. I do understand this is very difficult on a large scale and I’m happily hoping that I won’t ever have to grow on such a large scale.
What do you think?